Today we have another great example of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. The verse has two statements which in an appropriate figure of speech we could call “two sides of a coin.” They state two sides of the same concept; if one is true, the other is likely also.
This is not a complete course in anger management. It only makes two statements which are both true. When you agree with them, you will need to find a way to capitalize on them. The way is probably close at hand, but it is not stated.The English Standard Version puts it this way: “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.” All the versions read quite similarly and capture the meaning quite well, while at the same time they hide some of the intricacies of the Hebrew.
One of those intricacies is that the first statement is actually a noun sentence; that is, it has no verb in the Hebrew. All our English versions insert a verb in order to make the words flow. The Webster Bible of 1833 puts the inserted words into italics so that you know they were not in the original. Some of the versions are not so candid. So if you read it in literal Hebrew, it would be something like this: “Slow of anger, much understanding.”
As you can see, a verb is really unnecessary as the point is clear. The implication is that time allows for understanding. Understanding is in short supply if you act before taking time to think. And the word for understanding comes from a Hebrew root that means to discern or discriminate, to tell the difference between. If you act before you can notice the difference between a situation that is good and one that is bad, the outcome is not promising.
So from that clause alone, you can determine that you should control your anger. It can be controlled. Maybe you need help controlling it. One of the chief blessings of believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is that He gives the Holy Spirit to indwell you. The Holy Spirit desires to produce His fruit in you, and that includes control over anger. Some folks are always contrary, but it is likely that some of our readers do desire ‘much understanding.’
We use a variety of terms to express the inner manifestations of a person. Our version says “temper,” but the Hebrew word is the one we usually render as ‘spirit.’ So being hasty of spirit causes one to exalt folly. “Exalt” is a participle which describes this as a common characteristic; maybe you can cite an exception, but typically a hasty spirit promotes folly. It is obvious from the first phrase that anger is in the discussion, so it is logical that the versions would use a word like ‘temper’ to communicate to us even though ‘temper’ is not as neutral as ‘spirit.’
“Folly” is a word that is I don’t hear being used much today. It stresses what is rude and disrespectful. Interestingly, the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament in discussing this word says of children, “Discipline is important to children because foolishness is part of a child’s nature.” If it is not curbed, it may well lead to rebellion against God. Have we seen that anywhere? Of course, it is not restricted to being a child’s problem, however, and, in fact, if it has not been curbed in childhood, it likely will be a character trait in adulthood. The result may well be hurtful to many and disruptive to anything that requires cooperation.
So, being quick is not always a virtue. Again, being long-suffering is part of the fruit of the Spirit. He can help a person to operate at a cooler temperature and not commit irresponsible acts. There is a true benefit in having the Holy Spirit in one’s life.
Probably most people in a dispassionate state of mind, that is, not experiencing any extreme of emotions at the time, would agree that our verse is true. Some might even say it is true though they have trouble living that way. Some might go so far as to say that have no control in that area. Our verse does not tell us where to get help that we might need. In this direction, Galatians 5:22-23 is helpful. It lists those qualities that the Holy Spirit would gladly incorporate into our lives, if we want.